It has been well over a century since the pioneering aircraft made its first flight. The world of aviation is abundant with advanced technology that permits us to get from place to place as efficiently as possible.
However, more than a century of continuous development had to begin somewhere. Of course, it did so in the form of the Wright Flyer.
This rudimentary aircraft first flew in 1903, but how did it do so?
Let’s begin by establishing what exactly the Wright Flyer was. Designed and built by pioneering brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright, it drew inspiration from years of glider flying that the brothers had undertaken in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. The Wright Brothers’ ‘1902 Glider’ led directly into the design of their powered ‘Wright Flyer.’
This aircraft differed from the brothers’ previous gliders in its use of an engine. This was constructed under commission from the Wright Brothers by Charles Edward Taylor. It had to be custom-built since contemporary car engines were not suitable.
The impact of their endeavors was a 6.43-meter vessel dubbed the Wright Flyer. Its wingspan was almost twice its length, measuring 12.29 meters. The biplane design had space for just one crew member and looked rather rudimentary by today’s standards. However, in December 1903, it wrote its way into the history books.
How did it work?
So how did the Wright Flyer make the first powered, controlled, and crewed heavier-than-air flight? The whole process was rather different from what we are used to today, even in terms of the takeoff. Specifically, the Wright brothers launched their aircraft by running it along an 18-meter rail that sat level on the Kitty Hawk dunes.
The rail was level, as an earlier attempt with it on an incline for a gravity-assisted takeoff had been unsuccessful. Nonetheless, by taking off into the wind, the use of the rail on a level surface provided sufficient speed and lift for a 37-meter flight that lasted just 12 seconds.
A hip cradle controlled steering on the plane
This device warped the wings and adjusted the rudder to assist with turning. However, the four flights made on December 17th,1903 ago were all more or less straight lines. Meanwhile, the pilot’s left hand was responsible for operating the Wright Flyer’s elevator as they lay on their stomach on the aircraft’s lower wing.
The Wright Flyer had just three devices. These were a stopwatch, an engine revolution recorder (measuring the propellers’ rotation rate), and an anemometer. The latter of these estimated the distances of the flights. The most extended of these was the fourth attempt when Wilbur Wright flew for 260 meters in 59 seconds.
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The Wright Flyer’s flights on December 17th, 1903 were the only times that it took to the air. Heavy winds damaged the aircraft beyond repair, and the brothers initially placed it in storage. There were plans to exhibit it at the Smithsonian Institution, but the museum refused to credit the brothers for their achievement.
As such, the Wright Flyer spent 1928-1948 in the UK. Most of this was spent at the Science Museum in London, although the onset of the Second World War saw it moved to an underground storage facility near Corsham, Wiltshire.
The Smithsonian eventually accepted it in 1948, and it has stayed there ever since. It now resides, in a restored state, in the institution’s National Air and Space Museum.
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Source: Simple flying